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Rare Species Protection

Short’s goldenrod ~ photo by Thomas G. BarnesThe Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission is charged with monitoring and preserving rare species and natural communities throughout the Commonwealth. The commission Natural Heritage Program biologists systematically search the state to find new species and more populations of known rarities. The state nature preserve system protects only a fraction of the listed species of plants, insects, mammals, fishes, mussels, snails, arachnids, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, birds and natural communities in the Commonwealth. KSNPC currently monitors 763 state and federal listed endangered, threatened and special concern plant and animal species. High-quality examples of 59 natural communities are also monitored. The commission works with other organizations and private individuals to ensure the protection of additional populations of rare species and natural communities.

The leading reasons species become rare are habitat destruction and competition from the influx of exotic invasive species. Some rare species have an extremely limited distribution, and habitat loss within that range can lead to extinction. The state nature preserves are often one of the last safe havens for declining species. In Kentucky the globe bladderpod (Lesquerella globosa) survives only in the Kentucky and Licking River drainages within the Bluegrass region. Rockcress Hills State Nature Preserve (SNP) in Franklin County supports the only known population of Lesquerella globosa on public land.

The blackside dace (Chrosomus cumberlandensis) is a federally threatened fish that occurs in high-quality streams of the upper Cumberland River. The temperature and silt load of these streams are regulated by the distinct ecological community surrounding them, characterized by the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). The dace tolerates only a narrow set of environmental parameters; logging and mining activities have compromised the quality of many streams in its range. This community is now being threatened by the hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an insect introduced from Asia, which kills hemlock trees by feeding on sap drawn from the needles. Elsewhere in Appalachia this insect has caused mortality rates of over 90 percent of hemlock trees. At Bad Branch and Blanton Forest state nature preserves, continuing efforts to slow the spread of the adelgid are showing signs of success. To date, tens of thousands of hemlock trees of different size- and age-classes have been treated by soil injection of insecticide to protect the streams that support the dace. Treatment assistance has come from staff, volunteers, The Nature Conservancy and Kentucky Natural Lands Trust. Insecticide and some equipment have come through grants provided by the U.S. Forest Service, Toyota Motor Manufacturing and Bayer.

Terrapin Creek SNP in Graves County protects several species of fish found nowhere else in the state including a species of lamprey (fish) new to science that is related to the least brook lamprey (Lampetra aepyptera). This lamprey is found nowhere outside of Terrapin Creek and the unique spring runs located there. By protecting Terrapin Creek and the surrounding spring runs, the commission hopes to preserve this unique species.

Much of the commission’s preserve management centers on enhancing known populations of rare species and restoring the natural communities that support them. Management efforts have brought some very rewarding success stories. The federally endangered Short’s goldenrod (Solidago shortii) protected at Blue Licks State Park Nature Preserve in Robertson County is one example. There has been a significant increase in flowering stems that resulted from the sunnier, more open conditions provided by the prescribed fires and cedar removal implemented at Blue Licks SPNP.

A colony of approximately 21,000 federally endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) winters at Bat Cave SNP at Carter Caves State Resort Park in Carter County. Specially designed gates erected at both entrances to the cave have been effective in preventing disturbance to the population during hibernation.